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Nokia reckons its Symbian^4 UI will leapfrog the rest

2010 roadmap unfolded

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Last week, the Symbian Foundation looked to steal some of Android's bright limelight by outlining its 2010 roadmap.

The first fully open source release of the platform is due around midyear, with two updates to the OS also planned this year - Symbian^3 within weeks, and Symbian^4 by the end of 2010. Now Symbian's largest supporter, Nokia, has shown off its proposed user interface for Symbian^4, which it has long promised will revolutionize its user experience and catch up with UI frontrunners like Apple and HTC.

Nokia has submitted its UI proposal to the Symbian Foundation, and will now undergo open evaluation under that body's process, according to a blog post on the Symbian Developer web site, as reported by Techworld.

Many improvements are geared to a simpler and slicker experience - for example, minimizing user prompts and autosaving features to cut down on save commands. Importantly, the proposed UI would enable the same look and feel for all applications as well as a new interface layout, with four main views (contacts, music, photos and applications). This would be in line with other multiview UIs such as LG's cube-shaped S-Class or Vodafone's 360.

Nokia has been talking about context based services, an area where it claims a major headstart on Apple and others, for some time. Its new proposal allows for context-based menus, accessed using a long press, to provide faster access to common commands. As with all the Finn's software activities, the emphasis will also be heavily on user controlled personalization.

CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo told the company's Capital Markets Day last month that the Symbian user experience had fallen behind the pack, but promised it would be a "non-issue" by year end.

There will also be some interim UI improvements on the road to Symbian^4, including a customizable homescreen for Symbian^2 and a fully touch-based interface for Symbian^3, with single taps and multitouch gesture support. Smartphones based on version 2 and 3 will arrive during the first and second half of 2010 respectively. Nokia will use its proposed UI for its own models but may also hope to have it licensed by third parties. In the previous, closed phase of Symbian, Nokia's Series 60 UI was dominant and adopted by some third parties, though other options were the now defunct UIQ, originally developed by Ericsson, and NTT DoCoMo's own MOAP.

While Symbian may be grabbing back a few PR points from Android, the same cannot be said for Windows Mobile, which is suffering from further doubts over whether its own OS upgrade will appear this year. Some sources, mainly citing LG, expect Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to unveil WinMo 7 - widely seen as the last chance for Microsoft to make a real impact on smartphones - at next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

But the firm has been evasive about launch dates, and Taiwan's DigiTimes is reporting that Microsoft may actually launch another stopgap release, dubbed 6.6, in Barcelona. The main feature would be support for capacitive touchscreens and multitouch, but the market could get frustrated by yet another delay for the more radical release 7. In 2009, when that update was first scheduled, licensees had to make do with the WinMo 6.5 stopgap.

Last November, Microsoft promised substantial information on WinMo 7 at the Mix 2010 show in March, but has now removed any references to its smartphone OS from its Mix site. Microsoft is staying quiet on the speculation.

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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